When I was twelve years old, I experienced a “defining moment.” Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t some uncommon extraordinary experience. It wasn’t a brush with death. I hadn’t contracted some debilitating disease. Neither had I been traumatized by some predator. It was what my father did and what my mother stopped doing that marked me deeply for the rest of my life. And it happened in less than five minutes.
It all had to do with painting. The family who rented a property my parents owned moved out, and there was some “fixing up” and painting that needed to be done before the new tenets moved in. My father thought this would be a great project for the entire family to tackle, so on a Saturday morning, my dad, my mother, my two older sisters, and yours truly reported for duty. Mom and my sisters were working on the first floor, and my job was to help Pop paint on the second floor. And that was the problem. I never did like to paint. I didn’t then, and I don’t now.So I had to somehow figure out a way to be free of what I thought was an unnecessary burden.
My “ace in the hole” was my mother. Mom was always more sympathetic to her precious little boy than Dad was, and I knew that if I pressed the right buttons, she would rescue her one and only son from spending his Saturday doing something he didn’t want to do. So under the guise of having to use the bathroom, I went downstairs and began to complain to Mom.
While I was in the middle of convincing my mother that I needed to take off and play with my friends, Pop showed up. As I write these words, I am vividly remembering and reliving that momen.My mother said to my father, “Crawford is only twelve years old, and he doesn’t need to be here with us all day. He needs to be enjoying himself with his friends.”
Then my father said, “Sylvia, I got this. That boy one day is going to be somebody’s husband and somebody’s father. There are going to be people depending on him. He has got to learn how to do what he has to do and not what he wants to do.” To my mother’s credit, she looked at me and then at my father, nodded in agreement, and turned away. Pop then turned to me and said, “You take yourself upstairs and paint until I tell you to stop.”
And I did.
Even at twelve years old, I knew that something important had just happened. It wasn’t that I had just lost a little skirmish, and this time I wasn’t going to get my way. The words “somebody’s husband . . . somebody’s father” and “He has got to learn how to do what he hasto do and not what he wants to do” kept replaying in my mind. Of course I wasn’t fully aware of the weight of what had happened. In fact, it would be years before I fully appreciated the significance of that Saturday morning. But I did have the sense that what just happened was a gamed changer.
My mother knew that in order for her boy to become a man, the most important man in his life needed to shape him. Pop knew that in order for his son to provide leadership and stability to those who would count on him one day, “Crawford” needed to embrace core lessons in manhood, obligation, and responsibility.
A transition took place that day, and I’m so glad it did. In a very real sense, it was what some would call a “rite of passage.” My dad knew that in order for me not to become a fifty-year-old adolescent, I needed to make some intentional steps toward manhood. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to God for the gift of Pop’s courage, and that he wasn’t passive when it came to my development.
“We had earthly fathers who disciplined us, and we respected them, . . . for they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them” (Hebrews 12:9-10).
— from the foreword to Dennis Rainey’s book, Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood (Family Life, 2011)